Chemicals in burnt South African warehouse cause “considerable” environmental damage – authorities

CAPE TOWN, July 23 (Reuters) – South African authorities said on Friday that around 1,600 chemicals were stored in a warehouse owned by Indian company UPL Ltd when it was razed in a heavy looting last week, causing potentially harmful air emissions and a greenish effluent to seep into a protected lagoon.

The warehouse was among hundreds of businesses attacked and looted in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng in one of the worst violence of the post-apartheid era, sparked by the imprisonment of the former President Jacob Zuma on July 7 for contempt of court. .

First noticed in the early hours of July 13, the blaze was not fully extinguished until around 5:00 p.m. local time (3:00 p.m. GMT) on Thursday, July 22, officials from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Environmental Affairs said. that tons of dead fish were collected in the near the lagoon and Umhlanga beach.

“The nature of chemicals (…) is very dangerous. These types of chemicals should not be disposed of in our landfills without prior consent,” said Siphumelele Nowele, chief environmental management director at the government. provincial of KZN.

“We can all confirm that the damage is quite extensive and that it will take time to fully address it,” Nowele said, adding that besides marine life, biodiversity and freshwater systems were also at stake. Several beaches were closed following the spill.

A spokesperson for the local UPL unit did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A July 19 company statement confirmed the presence in the warehouse of a number of pesticides and fungicides that can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.

“The situation is being closely monitored and to date no cases of acute human toxicity have been reported,” the company said at the time.

Local councilor Rory Macpherson told Reuters that when the warehouse fire started a large plume of acrid smoke was visible, before a greenish-bluish effluent was noticed seeping into a tributary of the river. which fed the lagoon of Umhlanga and the Indian Ocean.

“It absolutely wiped out all forms of marine life, from worms to crabs to all the wonderful fish. There is no more marine life, zero in the lagoon and the tributary of the river,” he said. he said about a stream that runs alongside an informal settlement. . (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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